Subpolar North Atlantic Eastern Boundary

A workshop was held on 14 October 2019 in Edinburgh (UK), at the Hudson Beare Building, King’s Buildings, Edinburgh University. This workshop brought together groups from 9 European institutions and 6 European countries to promote closer collaboration between the groups making moored and other observations along the eastern boundary of the subpolar North Atlantic.

The eastern boundary of the subpolar North Atlantic has shown some striking changes in recent years, with the freshest ever salinities recorded and cooler than average temperatures. Whether these changes are part of a cycle of Atlantic oscillations or the first indications of a long-term change in the supply of heat and salt to the subpolar gyre is hotly debated. The eastern subpolar gyre is a region where ocean circulation is better observed now than ever before, with the Greenland-Scotland Ridge (GSR), OSNAP, and NOAC mooring arrays, the latter soon to be extended onto the Irish shelf as part of the EirOOS project.


We highlighted a number of important questions that need to be addressed to understand the eastern subpolar North Atlantic, including:

  • How do the extreme changes observed in the Atlantic in recent years (cold and fresh anomalies) fit in the picture of a changing climate: declining Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, changing atmospheric patterns. And what are the future implications of these?
  • How do small (spatial) scale ocean circulation features, such as the European Slope Current, that new technology is only now enabling us to observe, connect with large circulation patterns such as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and heat transport towards the Arctic?

An improved understanding of these questions could greatly improve the representation of heat transport across the Greenland-Scotland Ridge towards the Arctic and help us better understand the connection from lower latitudes to high latitudes. The opportunity is also timely at the moment due to the number of independently-funded observing arrays in the region.

There is need for the scientific community to receive ad-hoc funding from the next research and innovation programme (Horizon Europe) to address these questions and to sustain on the long-term the observing arrays.

There is strong potential for improved forecasts to transfer to business stakeholders, in particular with the fisheries and aquaculture communities. For example, subtropical species arrive in the North Sea from the north, due to being transported by the Slope Current. This surprising fact has important implications for understanding the spread of subtropical species due to climate change and their impact on fisheries and ecosystem. It underlines the importance of understanding these Slope Current dynamics.


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